The FBI is investigating whether an off-duty pilot who tried to shut down the engines of an in-flight jetliner on Sunday was on psychedelic mushrooms, an official told the Los Angeles Times.
Federal prosecutors in Oregon have charged Joseph Emerson, 44, with interference with flight crew members and attendants. Emerson was arrested after pilots and crew members detained him Sunday following an outburst in the cockpit during a Horizon Airlines flight from Seattle that was headed to San Francisco. Horizon Airlines is a regional carrier owned by the parent company that owns Alaska Airlines.
In a criminal complaint unsealed Tuesday, an FBI agent revealed that Emerson told investigators about his use of psychedelic mushrooms and said “it was his first time taking mushrooms.”
But FBI officials declined to confirm that Emerson had taken mushrooms at the time of the midair incident.
“It is vague in [the complaint], but that is part of what [the] FBI is investigating,” said Joy Jiras, an FBI Portland field office spokesperson. “The FBI is investigating the timeline of his use of magic mushrooms. We are trying to figure out whether he was on them that day or whether they were in his system or not.”
Emerson had been flying in the “jump seat,” a foldout seat usually placed behind the captain’s seat, according to experts.
“I am not OK,” Emerson said during the flight, after he had been casually engaging the two pilots in conversation, a federal agent said in the complaint.
Both pilots then saw Emerson grab onto the red fire handles, which are used to extinguish engine fires and shut down all fuel to the engines, potentially turning the plane into a glider, the pilots told federal investigators.
One pilot struggled with Emerson for about 25 or 30 seconds before the off-duty pilot “quickly settled down,” according to the complaint.
The other pilot saw Emerson throw his headset across the cockpit before saying he was not OK.
The pilots said the interaction with Emerson lasted about 90 seconds before they were able to remove him and secure the cockpit, the complaint said.
Flight attendants then saw Emerson “peacefully walking to the back of the aircraft,” the complaint said. They had received a call from the pilots saying that Emerson was “losing it,” and he told one attendant that he “just got kicked out of the flight deck,” according to investigators.
“You need to cuff me right now, or it’s going to be bad,” he told the attendant.
He was cuffed and seated in the back of the plane, according to the complaint, where he tried to grab the handle of an emergency exit before he was stopped by a crew member.
Another crew member said that Emerson made statements about how “he tried to kill everybody,” the complaint said.
“The flight attendant noticed Emerson take out his cellular phone and appeared to be texting on the phone. Emerson was heard saying he had just put 84 peoples’ lives at risk tonight including his own,” FBI Agent Tapara Simmons wrote in the complaint.
After the plane made an emergency landing in Portland, Ore., Emerson was detained. He told police he had become depressed six months ago, according to the complaint.
He talked with the officer about “the use of psychedelic mushrooms” and said “it was his first time taking mushrooms.”
“I’m admitting to what I did. I’m not fighting any charges you want to bring against me, guys,” he told police, according to the complaint.
Emerson was booked by police in Multnomah County on suspicion of 83 counts of attempted murder. It was not clear whether the state case would continue in light of federal charges.
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